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Study: Animal Welfare Practice Labels Important to Some
USAgNet - 08/11/2011

Grocery shoppers are increasingly interested in where their food comes from, and in the case of meat and eggs, they're also interested in how the live animal was treated. In fact, consumers may be so interested that they're willing to pay extra for meat and eggs with a mandatory label indicating animal welfare information, according to a university study.

"The analysis suggests there may be significant support by consumers for mandatory labeling of production practices impacting animal welfare," said Kansas State University assistant professor, Glynn Tonsor, who along with Michigan State University professor, Christopher Wolf, conducted the study.

The agricultural economists examined U.S. resident support for mandatory labeling of animal welfare information on pork and egg products. Data was collected in 2008 from 2,001 U.S. residents.

The use of gestation crates and stalls for swine, as well as laying hen cages for chickens has been heavily criticized by some groups for being too restrictive for the animals, said Tonsor, who is a livestock marketing specialist with K-State Research and Extension. In some states, those concerns have resulted in citizen petitions and legislative bills that establish space and/or movement requirements for sows and/or hens that lay eggs.

A fact sheet summarizing the study, a link to a full scientific article, and corresponding videos are available online at http://www.agmanager.info/livestock/marketing/AnimalWelfare/default.asp.

When initially asked, 61.7 percent of survey respondents indicated they favored mandatory labeling of pork produced on farms using gestation crates/stalls, and 62.0 percent said they were in favor of such labeling of eggs produced using laying hen cages.

The typical U.S. resident was estimated to be willing to pay 20 percent higher prices for pork and egg products in exchange for mandatory labeling information conveying the use -- or lack thereof -- of gestation crates/stalls or laying hen cages. The economists believe, however, that the 20 percent estimate may overstate actual demand and note more work is needed. Demand was higher among females and younger consumers than in others involved in the study. The perceived accuracy of information from different sources was also an important demand driver.

The issue of mandatory labeling policies regarding animal welfare information has not been studied extensively, and the authors assert further research is needed prior to any policy discussions. Among the most pressing issues is the need for a benefit-cost assessment, Tonsor said.

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